From nayb to playing card
Legend has it that the history of the Tarot dates back to the first decades of the 13th century when Mediterranean merchants travelled the Silk Road through Asia and Africa, bringing among their belongings the first deck of cards known in the West as “Mamluk” . Its origin was Islamic and it was organized in four suits.
During the 15th century, in Europe, a fifth suit was added to the cards: the trumps, which were cards with drawings of flowers or varied scenes that were superior to those of ordinary suits. Their figures were almost the same as we know them today as the 22 major arcanas of the Tarot.
With the incorporation of the trump cards a new game was born called Tarocco or Tarocchien Italy, Tarock in Germany and Tarot in France. The first complete deck on record is the beautiful and luxurious Visconti-Sforza Tarot, handmade around 1440 commissioned by the Duke of Milan, where emblematic figures such as The Empress, The Hanged Man or The Magician and almost all of them already appeared and all the others that today make up the major arcanas, with one exception: The Tower and The Devil. It is not known for sure if they are missing because they were lost or were not yet part of the game.
By the end of this century, the deck was already organised into 78 cards: 22 trumps numbered from 1 to 21, plus The Fool, the card that has no number (some versions put 0), and 56 cards divided into 4 suits: Golds , Wands, Swords and Cups that go from 1 to 10, plus their corresponding figures (King, Queen, Knight and Page); and it began to have another use: Dviination. Apparently it was common in social gatherings to ask the maids and knights to randomly draw one of the 22 trumps and then describe their personality or destiny based on the chosen figure.
In Paris, during the 18th century, occult sects and secret lodges proliferated. Thus, the fascinating language of the cards gave rise to new interpretations. The most popular held that the origin of the Tarot was Egyptian and that it was the true sacred book of the god Thot.
Direct analogies flourished between the Tarot and Kabbalah, or the Tarot and Astrology. From then until the 20th century, some of the best-known esoteric decks were produced, such as Aleister Crawley’s and Arthur E. Waite’s Rider-Waite, both members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Its use for divination became massive and reached almost every corner of the world. Additionally, psychology, anthropology and history also found material for research in the tarot cards.
The most important museums in the world, such as Milan, the British or the National Library in Paris, keep decks and cards among their riches.
In the 1960s, the Tarot had its revival thanks to the hippie culture, and since then, even more strongly, its images and symbols continue to be interpreted under infinite optics. They were drawn by the Argentine master Xul Solar, in the 50s and Salvador Dalí in the 70s. Today there are an uncountable number of illustrations: of animals, flowers, druids, angels; also erotic and even abstract. In each version, the authors put much of their own take on this compelling language.
Discussions about the validity of one or another interpretation are the order of the day, but the differences only confirm the tremendous force that these drawings, a gift from the wise and enlightened, continue to exert on us as an amulet to face with courage and beauty the great challenge of living.